CAR election outcomes do not bode well for stability

The Peace and Security Council (PSC) met on 16 February 2021 to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). This meeting came exactly two years after the signing of the 6 February 2019 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR between the government and 14 armed groups, for which the African Union (AU) is a guarantor.

The CAR held presidential and legislative elections in December 2020. The elections saw the victory of incumbent Faustin-Archange Touadera in the first round with just over 53% of the vote.

In confirming Touadera’s re-election, the constitutional court revised the voter turnout from 76% (as announced by the National Electoral Commission) to 35%. It then decided to confirm the election of only 22 members of Parliament, out of 140 seats. The remaining 118 seats will have to be filled by 2 May.

The low voter turnout in the presidential election and the cancellation of the voting process for 58 National Assembly seats are the result of attacks by armed groups trying to interfere in the elections.

In mid-December a coalition of six major armed groups, all signatories to the February 2019 peace agreement, was formed under the banner of the Coalition for Change (Coalition pour le changement [CPC]). The coalition subsequently launched attacks in several districts and tried to march on Bangui in early January following the announcement of Touadera’s victory.

The coalition tried to march on Bangui in early January following the announcement of Touadera’s victory

Although the poor voter turnout in the presidential election is explained by these armed groups’ attempts to derail the process, it does raise questions about Touadera’s legitimacy. This is particularly the case given the fact that the constitutional court significantly revised the voter turnout and validated only 22 seats.

This move by the court casts  doubts over the credibility of the entire election. The coalition of major opposition parties, the Coalition of Democratic Opposition (Coalition de l’opposition démocratique [COD 2020]), continues to reject Touadera’s re-election as fraudulent. It has also announced a boycott of the upcoming legislative elections.

In 2016 Touadera received about 63% of the vote in the second round of the polls, with a 62% voter turnout. This played a major part in his securing the necessary legitimacy after a turbulent ‘transition’ period under interim president Catherine Samba Panza. 

The fact that the government’s legitimacy is being contested by both the political opposition and by the CPC does not bode well for stability in the CAR. It also raises the stakes in the upcoming elections for the remaining National Assembly seats. These will be hotly contested – if they actually do take place without the disruption witnessed in December and January. In short, the December 2020 elections may have complicated matters more than the CAR can afford at this point, especially with regards to the future of the 2019 peace agreement.

AU’s role in the CAR

The AU as a guarantor of the February 2019 peace agreement is responsible, with the CAR’s other partners, for monitoring and ensuring the proper implementation of the agreement.

The AU as a guarantor of the February 2019 peace agreement is responsible for ensuring the proper implementation of the agreement

Its role includes sending military observers to monitor the training and deployment of mixed special security units (MSSUs) tasked with ensuring security in the country. The MSSUs were to be composed of soldiers drawn from the CAR regular armed forces, the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA), as well as individuals chosen from the armed groups that had signed the 2019 peace agreement.

Initially, the implementation of the peace agreement was slow, owing to challenges in agreeing on a detailed plan; the AU itself also did not have the human and financial resources readily available.

This is one of the reasons why AU military observers have still not been deployed, despite the fact that they were meant to on the ground two months after the signing of the peace agreement.

A memorandum of understanding had been signed between the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) and the AU Observer Mission in the CAR (MOUACA) for the deployment of the AU military observers. The PSC had authorised the move at a meeting in July 2020.

However, the January 2021 report by the UN Panel of Experts on the CAR cites the absence of AU military observers as one of the challenges in the proper monitoring of MSSUs’ deployment.  

The second important element of the AU’s role is that of holding spoilers of the peace agreement accountable, particularly through sanctions by the PSC. Since the signing of the peace agreement there have been several violations, with the first major incident taking place in May 2019. These have included violations committed by armed groups that had signed the 2019 peace agreement.

No actual sanctions have been issued against the leaders of the implicated armed groups

Yet no actual sanctions have been issued against the leaders of the implicated armed groups. This failure to take a tougher stance against violators has contributed to the escalation seen around the December 2020 elections. The AU and other guarantors of the peace agreement have struggled to strike a balance between preserving the peace agreement and curbing impunity.

These issues aside, the implementation of the February 2019 peace agreement has generally been slow. One mistake was probably to spend a lot of energy on getting parties to sign the peace accord, while making little preparation for its implementation and the resources needed for this.

The history of CAR peace agreements suggests that more should have been done to make the peace deal stick. Belligerents in the country have signed several peace agreements that have failed in the implementation phase.

In spite of the recent attacks by the CPC (and the very fact of its existence), which are a blatant violation of the peace agreement and in a way signal the end of the accord, the AU and the UN have reaffirmed that the agreement is the only viable framework for peace and reconciliation in the CAR.

It will, however, take more than pronouncing the agreement alive for it to be so. If this agreement is to be saved, it must be revisited, spoilers must be held accountable and sanctioned where needed, and adequate human and material resources must be deployed. 

In the face of Touadera’s contested legitimacy and the need to organise credible legislative elections, political turbulence is bound to continue if the appropriate steps are not taken to defuse the situation. This requires the PSC to pronounce itself more firmly on the spoiler role of armed groups and the potential threat to subsequent electoral processes.

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